Baby Breakouts: Common Skin Issues Explained

This content has been clinically reviewed by Vivian Lennon, M.D. 

You know your baby’s delicate skin best, but it can still come as a surprise to learn how susceptible our little ones are to rashes and bumps. Most infant skin conditions are harmless and clear up on their own with a little TLC from mom and dad. But this quick guide offers some helpful information about a few of the most common skin concerns, and what you can do for your baby.

Diaper Rash

Diaper rash is one of the most common skin conditions in babies ages four to 15 months. It’s any type of inflammation (rash or redness) that appears in the diaper area.

Diaper rash is caused by too much moisture, continual chafing and rubbing or leaving wet or dirty diapers on for too long. Diaper rash can also be an allergic reaction to the diaper material, food or other substance. Sometimes, diaper rashes can occur even if you make every effort to change your little one as quickly as possible.

In most cases, it clears up in less than a week with treatment.

Signs to look for

  • Bright, red patches of skin in the diaper area
  • In severe instances, open sores (in which case, you should call your pediatrician)
  • Skin around the diaper area that’s warm to the touch (in which case, you should call your pediatrician)

What to do

  • Keep the area as clean and dry as you can
  • Apply skin cream or ointment with zinc oxide or petroleum jelly to the affected area
  • Avoid rubbing or scrubbing your baby’s skin to avoid further irritation
  • Be wary of scented wipes, which can sting red or irritated skin, until the rash has cleared – instead, rinse the area with warm water
  • Keep diapers as loose as possible, especially overnight
  • Soak your baby in an oatmeal bath to help soothe irritation and redness

Infant eczema

Eczema in kids usually makes an appearance between six months and five years, and is common in up to 10 percent of babies. Doctors can’t say conclusively what causes it, but we do know that it’s a response from your child’s immune system that can result from a combination of genetic and environmental factors.

Babies who have a family history of hay fever, asthma or allergies may be more susceptible. Eczema is not contagious, and your baby can’t catch it or give it to anyone else. It may require treatment from a doctor.

Signs to look for

  • Patches of dry, red, scaly skin on the face, hands, back, behind the ears or in creases and folds of the elbows, neck and knees
  • Small bumps on the cheeks, forehead and scalp

What to do

  • Keep baby’s skin moisturized
  • Keep your little one from scratching as best you can, and keep her fingernails short
  • Limit your child’s exposure to her specific triggers, including allergens like pollen, dust and pet dander, soaps and detergents, fabrics, tobacco smoke, certain foods, heat and sweating
  • Avoid hot baths and other activities that may dry out the skin, and pat skin dry rather than rubbing after bathing
  • Apply protective creams and ointments, including the ones prescribed by your pediatrician, to aggravated areas, especially after bathing
  • Apply cold compresses to soothe hot, itchy areas

Cradle Cap

Cradle cap is the baby version of dandruff, and there’s no need to worry if it pops up on your child’s scalp. It can occur in kids up to three years of age, but is most common in infants, and will usually go away on its own in a few weeks or months.

Signs to look for

  • Rough white, yellow or dark patches on the scalp – this can also extend to the forehead, eyebrows and ears
  • Scaling or redness on the scalp
  • Crusted or greasy patches on the scalp
  • Flakes that look like dandruff

What to do

  • Wash baby’s hair with mild shampoo and then softly brush to remove scales
  • Massage baby’s scalp with a washcloth to encourage the removal of flakes and scales
  • Some parents find that baby oil helps ease cradle cap, but it’s not necessary in most cases

Baby (neonatal) acne

Baby acne is a skin condition that causes pimples to form on an infant’s cheeks, nose and forehead as a result of exposure to mom’s hormones while in the womb. It appears around two to three weeks of age, and will usually clear up by the time baby is six months old.

What to look for

  • Small red or pink bumps on baby’s skin

What to do

  • Gently clean the area with mild soap and water
  • Avoid using lotions, harsh soaps or acne medication intended for adults
This content is general information and is not specific medical advice. Always consult with a doctor or healthcare provider if you have any questions or concerns about the health of a child. In case of an urgent concern or emergency, call 911 or go to the nearest emergency department right away. Some physicians and affiliated healthcare professionals on Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta team are independent providers and are not our employees.